“He seemed nice. Quiet, though. Kept to himself a lot.” You would expect to hear this in which context:
A) A high-school yearbook
B) A memorial service
C) The aftermath of a shooting spree that has left several people dead
If you answered ‘C,’ you aren’t alone. Which is probably why Anneli Rufus wrote this book.
I first encountered Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto as a serendipitous find in a used book store. This must be one of those books that depends on recommendations between friends and chance encounters for sales, since I can’t imagine it being the focus of a multi-city high-profile book tour. I met the book and read it in 2006. I read it again last month, a little anxious that I might not like it as much the second time around—so many books can’t survive a second reading. I need not have worried: I still like the book, I still see the same faults in it that I did the first time, and I still want to promote it. Really, the only difference between then and now is that now I have a blog.*
This is a book that sings the praises of the solitary lifestyle (yes, I’m discussing it on the day dedicated to romantic togetherness). And praise this lifestyle Rufus does, from pointing out earlier admiration for solitary types in the days of film noir to challenging the stereotype of the loner** as likely mass-murderer. Loners in art, in relationships (not an oxymoron), with religious beliefs, as solo adventurers: Rufus touches upon many aspects of modern life as seen from the solitary viewpoint. It makes for a refreshing read if you’ve gotten tired of hearing how loners are dangerously antisocial, miserably lonely, socially retarded, and/or mentally ill.
Books that make an impression on you because you see yourself in them are difficult to see objectively. Much of why I like Party of One is because Rufus put into words things that I hadn’t realized I knew until I read them on the page. When I read “Writing is done alone. People do not talk about the things they do alone,” I was so impressed by that observation, I think I posted the quote at three different sites (now four). I was rather proud of myself for not plastering half the book on the Internet, which was a temptation any time I hit a passage that left me going, “Yes, that’s it exactly!” In others’ reviews, I’ve read criticisms that Rufus relies too heavily on anecdotes rather than research, that she repeats herself, that she didn’t have enough material for a book so that her work feels padded. I can tell that this is a book that slipped past my defenses: while I agree with the criticisms, I also don’t care. And that seems to be the way of it for many who read the book: it gets high ratings from people like me who read it and had the “yes, me too!” experience. Others, not so much.
That said, the author and I part ways on her us-against-the-world tone. She refers to nonloners in a contemptuous and patronizing manner, especially in the first few chapters. Like super-rich food, a rant or two was satisfying, but I found a steady stream of ranting to be distasteful. I finally hauled out the dictionary and reviewed the definition of manifesto, just in case I’d misunderstood and a harsh stance was mandatory (nope: it’s simply “a public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions, especially of a political nature” according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition). It left me frustrated; it’s difficult to press a good book on friends if you’re reasonably certain that it’s going to take jabs either at them or their friends and family. Indeed, if you’ve got an extrovert willing to learn more about how the solitary quarter lives, you might want to start with Jonathan Rauch’s classic article in The Atlantic, “Caring for Your Introvert” instead.
Go on. Try it. And if you enjoy it, know that you’ll have plenty of fellow fans, none of whom will feel like getting together to discuss it.
*Back in 2006, I would have had to slip discussion of the book into a face to face conversation. Now I can be restrained about the whole thing. It’s just a blog post. If I’ve intrigued you, I’ve given you enough information to find the book on your own. If you’re not interested, you can just click away to another site. And if you know me in real life, be relieved that I haven’t yet bought a loaning copy and shoved it into your hands with a wild light in my eyes.
**Rufus prefers the term loner to introvert and I see her point. But, probably because I learned the term through lay exposure to the MBTI rather than Jung’s original writings, I understand introvert to mean what she means by loner. So I bounce between those terms and between nonloners and extroverts for those people the book isn’t about.